A Send Off For Pat the Bat.

Barring a 1-day Contract, Burrell is Done.

Pat Burrell retired yesterday.  I suppose the lasting impression of him wearing a Giants uniform kept me from taking proper notice.  Burrell was a very important Phillie, and as I was reminded today, almost everyone has a Pat Burrell story.  If you’ve ever crossed paths with this guy, or know someone who has, you’ve probably heard a tale of Burrell.  We’re talking mostly off the field endeavors.  The first Burrell story I ever heard was from my college roommate, who had rumors on Pat the Bat from his Cape Cod League days.  That’s not the story I’m going to tell here today.  It’s not the proper forum, and I’ll get to my far tamer tale in a minute, but first a quick acknowledgement of Burrell’s career.  

Burrell was part of the homegrown nucleus that eventually won the Phillies a World Series.  Along with Jimmy Rollins, Burrell was one of the first of this generation to arrive in Philly.  From the jump, there was always a bit more focus on Burrell than the other players.  Jimmy Rollins arrived in the big leagues as an unknown commodity to most casual fans, but any Phillie fan worth a damn had been tracking Burrell since the day Phillies took him with the 1st overall pick in 1998.  Of course, to get the 1st pick, you have to be the worst team and the Phillies were terrible then.  Not only was Burrell charged with turning the team around, it was also his responsibility to erase the memory of J.D. Drew.  The Phillies had wasted their 1st rounder on Drew the year before (Drew would go 5th in the same 1998 draft to St. Louis).  Instead of getting two future cornerstones, Burrell was looked at to do all the work on his own.  Luckily for him, there was a lot of less-hyped help also on the way.  

That isn’t to say that Burrell didn’t live up to expectations, but they might have been just too high.  He cruised through the Minors and arrived partway through the 2000 season.  He went 2 for 5 with 2 RBI in his debut in Houston and I honestly remember Jayson Stark talking about him on Baseball Tonight either that night or sometime soon after his debut.  The name he used was Jeff Bagwell.  Burrell was a middle of the order power threat that could hit .300.  He had been a .300 hitter in the minors, and that is the comparison Stark came up with.  He would not become Jeff Bagwell, but he had several solid years with the Phillies and rode some historic hot and cold streaks.  

He always seemed to do all right with the fans, though, even in his hard times.  He seemed to have an awareness of what was expected of him and he was always accountable.  And, maybe the fans were always hoping that the former #1 pick would eventually become a superstar.  Maybe it is because everyone had heard a Burrell story or two and they found him more real than other players, easier to relate to, I don’t know.  

My personal Burrell story comes from the Spring of 2004.  Burrell was coming off his nightmare season.  One-year removed from signing a huge contract extension (earned with a .282/37/116 season in ’02) Burrell had slumped mightily to .209/21/64 in 2003.  I was down in Clearwater that Spring and I found myself playing golf with Burrell and Jason Michaels.  I was recently out of college and on the ride over to Burrell’s course he and Michaels both grilled me about my schooling while regaling me with tales of exactly how little work they’d done at the University of Miami.  Burrell, who was in his mid-20s at the time, a few years my senior still struck me very much as a college guy.  He had a 50 million dollar contract, but on the way to the course stopped for a tin of dip.  This was all very easy to relate to, aside from being in a much nicer car, I could have been with any of my friends headed out to the course.  

I don’t remember much about the round, or the place we played.  There was one funny moment when we got there and the guy working didn’t know Jason Michaels.  He asked him what position he played and Michaels took a self-conscious pause trying to figure out how to say he was a reserve–Burrell needed no such introduction.  I’ve played with people who made me nervous, I’ve played at courses that made me nervous, but I never really felt any of that on the course with Burrell.  He was easily impressed with my game, inquisitive about my dating life, etc.  

Sometime late in the back nine we came a short par three.  We hit our tee shots and we got to the green, it was covered with those seeds that fall from maple trees.  The ones that helicopter to the ground if you drop them.  They were everywhere and we started to make an effort to clean off the green before realizing it was a futile pursuit.  Burrell still had a few of the seeds in his hands. He dropped one of them and watched it spin toward the ground.  

“Look,” he said.  “It’s just like my career.  A downward spiral.”  

He was the first to laugh and then everyone laughed, because what else could you do?  Obviously, Burrell never took himself too seriously, but also it takes a lot of self-awareness to say something like that.  I think a lot of people think athletes are delusional, brainwashed into thinking they’re great and will be able to play forever–see Jamie Moyer.  But, there was none of that with Burrell.  Maybe it kept him from reaching the peaks of his potential, but it definitely made him a good guy to play a round of golf with.  

I was happy that he did eventually turn his career around.  He had four very productive seasons right up through that World Series, and even after he left I found myself pulling for him (with the exception of the NLCS).  I think part of that was because of that round of golf we played, but also Burrell was just an easy guy to pull for.  I’m sure he’ll come back to Philadelphia at some point, a World Series reunion or whatever, and receive a hero’s welcome.  In my mind, he deserves it–for the stories alone.  

Beirut Delusions — A Short Story.

"Drink."

This is what happens when I have time to kill after the Bachelor.  Please forgive any errors, it’s lacking a true edit.

Beirut Delusions

            Losers practice.  That’s what is running through my mind as I watch two freshmen I don’t know play a game of Beirut with cups filled with water in the common area of our dorm.  Why would you ever practice Beirut sober?  They’re both terrible.  The pudgy kid on the far side of the table is wearing a faded football T-shirt from his high school.  He probably got it at the first practice and quit the next day.  He misses the table entirely.  I cringe and both players laugh hysterically.  The JV offensive guard misses again and the ball comes rocketing across the room and stops at my feet.  Up to that point my presence had been unnoticed.  The room goes silent when they see me standing there and I look them both in the eye before bending down to pick up the ping pong ball at my feet.

“What are you guys doing later, practicing taking bras off your stuffed animals?”

They both break into uncertain smiles.  I flip the ball toward the table. It takes one measured bounce and then splashes into a cup of water.

“Drink,” I say, turning my back and leaving before either can respond.

I didn’t ask to become the best Beirut player at the school.  It’s just something that happened.  I might not even be the best player, but that’s the reputation I carry.  I’m in the myth-making business.  My own myth is the one I’m cultivating.  Sometimes, like with the idiots in the common area, the shit just falls right into my lap.  I couldn’t have scripted that any better.  By the time that story makes a few rounds I’ll have been 50 feet away from the table, or I will have thrown the ball over my shoulder on the way out of the room.  It’ll make the story better when the freshmen are telling it and in the process it elevates my status even more.  Like I said, I never intended for this to happen, but once it started—why not embrace it?

A year and a half ago I’d never seen a Beirut table.  When a group of kids from my freshman hall were herded into the basement of a frat house I had no idea what I was looking at the piece of furniture that would get me through college.  When people started playing that first night I hung back on the sidelines.  I wanted to act like I knew what was going on, so I watched—committing the rules to memory.  It was all very simple.  The Texas Hold ‘Em of drinking games, but I could also tell that status in the frat house was somehow tied to success in this game.  Across the basement, a group of seniors sat around a bottle whiskey watching the game unfold with a sense of big brotherly amusement.  They would never lower themselves to getting in this game.  I wanted to sit at that table.

For almost an hour I stood there, watching, sipping beer from a plastic cup, listening, walking to the keg, before it was finally my time to play.  One of the brothers had noticed my wallflower status and wanted to get me involved.  He snagged me as a partner and interjected us into the fray.  The next game was ours.

“Are you any good?” He asked.

“I’m good,” I said.  I didn’t have any proof to the contrary and we’d find out soon enough.

The beer settled my nerves, but that didn’t keep things from going against us early in the game.  My partner, the fraternity brother, the one who lived in the house with the damn table we were playing on, couldn’t hit a shot.  He was awful.  Uncoordinated, he looked like a left-handed person throwing with their right.  I knew immediately why I was recruited.  No one else wanted to play with this kid.  I hit a few shots, nothing extraordinary, but we were getting absolutely throttled.

“This is a fucking rout,” someone laughed as my partner missed again.  We were down to one cup on our side of the table.  The kid opposite me, the kid who lived a couple of doors down in the dorm had six cups in front of him as he lined up a final shot.

“Game over,” he cooed as the ball left his hand.  I watched the arc and I could see right away we were in trouble.  Part of me wanted to snatch the ball out of mid-air, save us the embarrassment, but I let the ball splash down—dispersing the last bits of the beer’s feeble head.  The opposition erupted in celebration.

“He called his shot, he called it!”

Anyone care for a Keystone Light?  I reached for the cup, resigned to our fate.

“Wait,” my partner grabbed my hand. “Re-tal,” he said.  Retaliation.  A rule I’d already forgotten.  Clearly invented by the kid who loses a game and immediately says, “best of three.”  It was a final chance, but meant for games much closer than our own.  We’d have to hit six straight cups to send the game into overtime.

“You’re the guest,” my partner said.  “You shoot it.”  He made it sound like he was being generous, but I could see he didn’t want the responsibility.  He was going to save himself the final humiliation.  The next day, if anyone talked about the game he lost by six cups, he’d just blame it on the freshman.

“Sure,” I took the ball out of the beer and dipped it into a glass of water.  I shook the water off with the practiced motion that I picked up from some of the more experienced players.  The other side of the table was still awash in commotion over the victory and the called shot.  They were loud.  Obnoxious.  Something came over me.  “You guys want to shut the hell up so I can hit these six cups real quick?”

This produced a burst of maniacal laughter from the other side of the table.  They thought I was joking, and maybe I was just a bit, but I focused through their heightened state of agitation.  They were all screaming at me, taunting me, but with six cups to shoot at, I had a big target.  The first shot found the mark.

“Oh good for him,” someone bellowed.  “A five cup loss is way more respectable.  Way to keep it close.”

The room didn’t get quiet until I hit the fourth cup in a row.  Then the opposition was out of wit and my partner was the one getting excited.  He was probably trying to figure out how to take some of the credit.  When the fifth consecutive shot found the mark even the seniors across the room started paying attention.  One casually got up and made his way over to the table.  He leaned against the wall and took stock of me, while I cleaned the ball off one last time.  I went through the same routine, lined up the shot, and released.

“Drink,” I said with an eerie calm in my voice.

The ball met Keystone Light and the whole basement went wild.  My partner almost tackled me to the floor and even the opposing team seemed impressed with what had just happened.  The senior that had made his over to the table looked at me, raised his eyebrows and then walked away.  Six shots in a row, all more perfect than the last, it was unprecedented.  Needless to say, we ended up winning the game, but that was all secondary to the story.  The story of the comeback, it was the first story of many.

The games I’ve played since then, the feats, the burgeoning greatness has all led me to the game I’m about to play.  It’s big stakes.  It’s important.  Bragging rights and more.  I have a reputation to uphold.  The basement is quiet.  The crowd is showing the proper level of deference.  The calm is broken by someone calling from the top of the stairs.

“Jeff!  Jeff! Are you coming?”

I ignore the calls.  I bounce the ball on the table and take aim. I release a shot and watch as it finds the mark.

“Drink,” I mutter under my breath.

“Jeff!”  My focus is interrupted.  The voice is much closer now.  I turn and see my mother standing at the bottom of the stairs.  She looks agitated.  “We’re leaving,” she says. “Let’s go.”

I nod my head, “I’m coming.”

Finally acknowledged my mom heads back up the stairs.  I rush to the other side of the ping pong table and quickly dump the water from the cups into the laundry sink.  I stack the cups and wipe the table dry with a towel. Before darting up the stairs I take the envelope I’d just opened a half hour before and slide it into my pocket.  Inside is my college acceptance letter.

Weekend That Was.

Castillo Disproving That Song About Futures and Shades.

Well, welcome to Super Bowl week.  Also known as the biggest week in Sixers history (post-Iverson), but we can’t get ahead of ourselves.  If we go crazy with Super Bowl coverage today, what will become of the rest of the week?  Let’s be honest.  You’re not quite ready to hear why Vince Wilfork is the key to the Pats’ success.  For a weekend clogged up with meaningless All-Star games, there have been some happenings we should address.  We’ve got to look back before we look forward.

Juan Castillo Year Two.

In a very unsurprising move the Eagles filled a vacancy at secondary coach with Todd Bowles and retained defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.  Last year the Eagles decided to hire a defensive line coach (Jim Washburn) before hiring a defensive coordinator.  When prospective DC candidates found out they’d be married to Washburn’s “wide-9,” that culled the herd quite a bit.  Who was left standing?  Castillo, who implemented some type of sit-in tactic at the Nova Care until he was given an interview.  So, despite the cries for Castillo’s job, the Birds were right back in the same position this year. They would have needed to find a new DC to work with Washburn and also consider that Andy Reid could be a lame duck.  That’s not an attractive landing spot.  In the end, it’s welcome back Juan, because last year the Eagles decided to buy new appliances before remodeling the kitchen.

***

Charlie Manuel’s Casting Couch

It appears the Phillies are holding an open casting call for time in left field.  Juan Pierre became the latest player thrown into the crowded mix when he signed a minor league deal with the Phillies.  Add Pierre to Nix, Mayberry, Dom Brown and even Scott Podsednick if you want to the Phillies outfield landscape.  It’s a lot of bodies, especially considering the Phils are hoping to play Victorino and Pence just about every day.  That’s not a lot of at-bats to go around, and all these signings and Spring Traning invites are just insurance policies.  The Phillies hope that Mayberry can play, but with a 1/2 season track-record they can’t rely on that.  Among these four or five guys, there has to be at least a workable platoon in there somewhere?  I expect Pierre will have a good shot to make the team, especially early if Ryan Howard is on the DL.  The at-bats, though, will be Mayberry’s and Nix’s at the start, Mayberry to test his status as an everyday player and Nix because they made a 2-year commitment.

***

So, Robert Rock brought me home 25,000 fake units by winning in Abu Dhabi, but I’ll have to say I was a bit disappointed Tiger didn’t come through.  I want to see Tiger win again so I can see the reaction of everyone who has written him off.  From respected columnists to blog trolls there will be plenty of backpedaling when Tiger finds the winner’s circle again.  He may have lost this past weekend, but from what I saw, you’d have to expect Tiger to pile up multiple wins this season and the first will probably coming sooner rather than later.  It’s a shame that the Tiger can’t win because he’s not a good person story line isn’t going to play out for everyone.  In the end I think the real genius is going to be Joe LaCava who left the flighty Dustin Johnson to take Tiger’s bag.  Light schedule and plenty of dividends.  That’s my prediction.

On the PGA Tour, the “meltdown” continues to be one of the most compelling reasons to tune-in.  Kyle Stanley, a popular pick to be this year’s “Webb Simpson,” had the tournament under control from about the midway point.  At one point on Sunday he led by seven shots.  He stood on the 18th tee with a three shot lead and hit a beautiful tee shot.  From there, things got really ugly.  Lay-up, water, etc.  Next thing you know, Stanley’s got himself an “8” on the card and he’s about to lose a playoff to Brandt Snedeker.  From what I hear, Stanley’s got a little bit of “the buckle” in him, but it is incredible to me how much difficultly these guys have closing out tournaments.  Stanley was reduced to tears after the loss, a condition usually only suffered by Steve Stricker after a win.

***

Please do not play another Pro Bowl.  Ever.  Thank you.  That is all.

Different Picks.

And a Puppy!

Well, I’m not quite ready to enter a world where I have to talk about something aside from picks on Fridays.  February is going to be a tough month.  Maybe I’ll start reporting on the weather in Clearwater.  For now, to ease the transition and to kill time before Super Bowl Sunday, I’m going to make some other–less glitzy–selections.  We’ll keep track of how I do.  The 52% winning standard I set on football is going to be awfully tough to live up to.  Let’s make some bank….

The Abu Dhabi Classic:

This is a tightly bunched field.  Tiger fired a 69 in round two to pull into a massive logjam in 4th place, two shots behind Thorbjorn Olesen.  Oh, you haven’t heard of Thorbjorn?  The leader is currently 16/1 to bring this home, but I’d never touch such an unknown commodity.  The conditions are apparently getting tougher, which might bode well for Tiger’s putting woes.  If no one goes real low, he’ll be right there.  Give me…

4,000 units on Tiger at 3/1:  Tiger is the co-favorite right now with Rory McIlroy, but Rory doesn’t quite look on his game.  I think Tiger  has a pretty good shot at this thing.  Sorry Tiger fans out there for that massive hexola.

1,000 units on Sergio Garcia at 14/1:  Serigio is currently three shots behind Olesen, but only one back of the massive pack at 5-under.  Sergio got back in the winner’s circle late last year with back-to-back wins.  This could finally be his year–13 years after the fact.

1,000 units on Robert Rock at 25/1:  Rock is a solid player in the pack at 5-under and only name recognition I imagine is keeping his odds this high.  Is Tiger 8 times more likely to win than Rock?  No way.  He’s worth a little flier.

***

The Pro Bowl:

It’s back in Hawaii this year.  I think it’s just easier to ignore, more comfortable for everyone if they keep this game off the mainland.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any prop bets on the Pro Bowl.  That felt like it would have been more fun than  picking the game, but apparently there wouldn’t have been a lot of action on such trivial matters.  Give me…

2,500 units on UNDER 74 points.  I know that no one plays defense, but I don’t think they’ll try hard enough to roll up 11 TDs either.  This is a vacation for these guys.

***

UFC on Fox 2:

Did everyone watch the UFC’s last fight on Fox?  It lasted about 90 seconds.  They didn’t show the undercard and it was 45 minutes of talking, 2 minutes of fighting and then another 13 of talking.  Not a great showcase, except for the knockout.  I think there are 3 televised bouts on Fox this time around, but don’t hold me to that.  The main-event is a light-heavyweight match between former champion Rashad Evans and the undefeated prospect Phil Davis.  Give me…

5,000 units on Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis at +160.  First of all, I challenge you to bet against someone using the nickname, “Mr. Wonderful.”  Can I put some money on Paul Orndorff this weekend?  Davis is a 4-time All-American wrestler from Penn State, he’s a total beast, and Evans has already peaked in my mind.  This is like free money.

***

The Australian Open:

Did we remember the 1st tennis major of the season was going on?  Look at how nicely this weekend is shaping up.  Unfortunately, my pre-tournament picks of Roger Federer and Serena Williams have already taken a hike, so I’ll need to recalibrate my tennis prognostication machine.  The problem is, since these matches are in Australia, I have absolutely no idea when they’re being played.  Give me…

1,000 units on Maria Sharapova at +110 over (Something) Azarenka.  After I made my Serena call I was a little bummed because I immediately read a couple of stories on how sharp Sharpova was looking.  She’s been on fire to this point, and who can turn down an opportunity to bet on Maria?

1,000 units on Rafa Nadal at +135 over Novak Djokovic.  We all know that Novak is the new Rafa, who was the new Rodge, but if I’m reading the schedule right–and I’m probably not–I think Nadal has one extra day of rest and Novak is coming off a tough 5-setter over perennial bridesmaid Andy Murray.  Nadal in four.

***

The NHL All-Star Game

Here’s something I’m sure you had no idea was going on this weekend.  There’s a hockey All-Star game?  There is, and YOUR Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen are all suiting up.  The NHL is still doing its Captain’s choice thing so the teams are “Team Alfredsson” and “Team Chara.”  The game’s in Ottawa if that matters to anyone.  And, now that I started typing this, I see there isn’t a line posted.  What?  Well, I’m not going to delete so, Give me…

1,000 units on Team Alfredsson (-110) over Team Chara.  I’ll just assume it’s even odds.  And, there’s no way I’m betting on Chara for anything.

***

Your Philadelphia 76ers:

The Sixers have been sneaky cover machines.  When they win–they win big.  And, they’ve covered some massive lines.  How do they do it?  With defense and effort.  Apparently it’s not illegal to guard people for 4 quarters in the NBA.  Who knew?

Give me 2,500 units on the 76ers (-16) over the Bobcats.  Judging by this line, the Bobcats must really stink.  The Sixers are a little thin down low right now, but you know what that means?  Yep, 20 and 12 for Elton.  No problem.  This should be a cakewalk.

***

Let Me Find a Soccer Game:

A couple of years ago I heard about this thing called, “El Clasico.”  It’s a game between Real Madrid and Barcelona.  The way I heard people talk about this game I thought it was like the Haley’s Comet of sporting events.  But, they play each other at least twice a year.  Let’s lose some of the hyperbole.  This is like an NFL regular season divisional game.  That was just a random soccer thought.  Give me…

1,000 units on Villareal and Barcelona Draw at +450.  How can you turn down a chance to bet a draw?  I feel like that’s some really advanced soccer betting.  What are you rooting for?  A tie, baby!

***

So, there you have it.  Twenty thousand units in play.  And, you thought it was going to be a slow weekend.

Tiger Woods: Ball-Striking Maven.

Tiger Can't Miss in Abu Dhabi.

There will be some non-golf in this post, so go ahead and scroll down if you must.  We’re at the annual point in the golf season that pits the European Tour vs. the PGA Tour.  Appearance Fees vs. No Appearance Fees.  Fans of International golf will likely crow about the quality of the field in Abu Dhabi this week.  It certainly is top-heavy, but they ignore that somehow Todd Hamilton gets in this event every year.  The PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines cannot brag about drawing the top-10 in the world, but if it is still true that the US has most of the depth, it’s easy to argue that Torrey still has the better field.

In recent years Tiger had always made his first U.S. appearance at Torrey Pines and played the somewhat less glamorous Dubai Desert Classic as his Mideast venture, but this year the lure of that guaranteed oil money was too much to ignore.  Sorry, Torrey Pines.  Hope Phil is a good enough consolation prize for you.  As I said, Tiger is joined in Abu Dhabi by the likes of World #1 Luke Donald, my #1 villain Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer, Sergio, etc.  In a real moment of ingenuity, Tiger was paired with Rory and Luke for round number one.

It ended up being Rory’s day–tied for the lead at 5-under par, but the subplot was the near flawless ball-striking of Mr. Woods.  Tiger missed the first green, then hit the next 17.  He was bogey-free, and took 34 putts on his way to a 2-under 70.  Now, 34 putts is an astronomical number for a pro.  I’ve had rounds where I took 34 putts so that means it’s not good.  At all.  The good news for Tiger and his spring-loaded pack of followers who are anxious for his next conquest is that he may have finally turned the corner in terms of his ball-striking.  It’s been a long while (granted only 4 real events) since Tiger was in full spray mode.

That doesn’t address the putting issue, though.  If this was five, six years ago we’d laugh off Tiger’s 34 putts, chalk it up to unfamiliarity with the greens and wait for him to shoot 63 tomorrow.  That could happen, or Tiger could be morphing into something of a Tom Watson character, a player who in the twilight of his PGA Tour run was hitting the ball better than ever but rarely holed a putt.  There’s no way that Tiger will ever get back to true dominance without his once infallible flat stick.  The fore-right, fore-left, pop-up 3-wood watch might become the 30-putt watch.  It’s always something, am I right, Tiger?

***

Phillies trade Wilson Valdez.  It surprised me how many people were a little upset with this deal.  Did we get anything back??  We traded Wilson Valdez.  What do you think?  The left-handed relief flier that comes to Philly from the Reds is about all you could expect.  Also, the Phils trim a tiny bit of cash off the payroll.  Every little bit counts when you’re saving up for Cole (fingers crossed).  Valdez was a fine fielder and is fondly remembered for his late-inning pitching heroics, but we don’t need to be too upset about this one.  It opens up a little window for Freddy Galvis and also probably means more Mikey Mart (an obvious downside).  Someone in the organization just loves that guy.  It’s funny how Philly fans get so attached.  Some cry for change and then get all busted up when Wilson Valdez gets shipped off.  Interesting little paradox.

**Update** Brad Lidge to Washington.  For a cool million.  Lidge will always be remembered for his perfect 2008 season and he deserves a huge chunk of credit for that title.  The Phils were hardly the pitching staff they are now back in those days.  Really, the entire bullpen was heroic.  Of course, Lidge followed up ’08 with one of the worst years ever by a closer and played a role in the Phillies losing the ’09 World Series.  So, there was that.  The Nationals continue to slowly assemble the 2008 Phillies, piece by piece.  Shame Jamie Moyer got away to Colorado.

***

I finished, The Art of Fielding, the Chad Harbach novel.  It didn’t finish that strong for me.  It kind of drifted from baseball, got a bit odd and mythopoetic (I learned that word in Tin Cup), but I still found it to be a decent book.  It’s incredibly polarizing to reviewers.  The initial reviews were great, but you can find dozens of people trashing it online.  That’s kind of the way things work, though, right?  Anything praised will eventually be trashed for being praised on the internet.  I think it deserves some criticism, but I find that very few books end well.  They’re often like those comedies we love (Superbad) where the first hour is incredible and then when forced to wrap things up it becomes forgettable.  Once baseball was pushed aside and the plot needed to be resolved I found myself a lot less interested.  It’s not a bad book, though.  Don’t believe all the haters.

***

When I look at the stats for my blog, after I scroll through the millions and millions of pageviews there is a little section that highlights search terms that led people to this site.  More often than not these terms are “Amber Heard,” or “Mila Kunis black and white,” or even “3 Putt Territory,” believe it or not.  Sometimes, though, there is just something so odd that it really makes my day.  It’s hilarious sometimes what people search for on the internet.  Today someone came through after a search of, “Fred Couples cold top.”  Did someone hear Fred use the term, “cold top?”  Certainly Fred has never hit a cold top in his life–unless he so ON PURPOSE.  But, considering how much I mention Fred and how I love the terms “cold top” and “cold shank” it’s not really surprising at all that this wayward searcher ended up here. If you come back, sir or madam, the only part of the club face that Fred needs is the damn screws.  Thank you and good day.

Mid-Week Mailbag.

Pretty Obvious Chemistry.

Welcome back to the Mid-Week mailbag.  It’ll be the only weekly post that makes an appearance for a while.  No NFL preview this week (sorry Pro Bowl) and no NFL Picks, either.  Think of it as a nice slow transition into February when absolutely nothing is going on.  I think we’ve got some pretty good questions today.  Will it cross the threshold into “nice bag” territory?  We’ll see…

Q: Do you think Pat Sajak and Vanna White ever slept together?  It had to happen at least once, by accident, right?  In 30 years?  Also, if Wheel of Fortune was invented today do you think they’d just go with self-revealing screens or would they throw a hot chick in there just for the added glitz and glam?  Robert Barker, Hollywood, CA.  

A:  Let me tackle part-2 first.  I wanted to say that at this point we’ve moved past the hot chick on game shows phenomenon, but then I remembered Deal or No Deal, which has 25 Vanna Whites out there every episode.  That said, I think “The Wheel” is a solid enough show to be successful without much sex appeal.  Back in the day, they really needed someone to turn the letters–why not a model?  Now, you’d just need a solid host (male or female) and the desire to play along at home would carry the show to fine ratings.  I actually think that if Vanna ever retires they may just retire the position with her.  I think that would be fitting.  Now, have Pat and Vanna ever gotten FRISKY?  Note that Sajak once denied this in an interview with Larry King, not that there was some accusation, just an inquiring minds moment.  He surely wouldn’t have admitted to it, though, so we’ll throw that out.  They’ve been doing the show together since 1983.  For much of that time they’ve been involved with other parties in one way or another, Sajak has spent almost the entire time married.  If it ever happened, it happened very early on, but I’m going to say…No.  According to Wiki, Vanna was engaged to a Chippendales dancer in the 80s, so I’m going to say that cute, little Sajak WASN’T her type.  

Q: So, I see this morning that Ruben Amaro is patting himself on the back for only giving Ryan Howard 5 years considering Prince just got nine.  He’s ignoring the fact that Fielder is 4 years younger, and both contracts take the players well into their 30s.  Is Howard’s contract still as bad as it looks and when do you think Howard will be back?   D. Montgomery, Chestnut Hill, PA.

A:  If Howard were healthy, his contract would look a lot better, because at least you avoided a comical number of guaranteed years.  In 2018, Howard’s contract will probably look great next to Prince’s, but no one really cares about 2018 right now.  The Phillies took a calculated risk with the deal, a very aggressive risk, but considering they hadn’t locked up Cliff Lee (again) at that point I don’t think you can say it’s a deal that totally crippled them.  If Howard can’t return to form from this injury, then you’ve just got a total disaster on your hands.  So, as of now, this is just all spin from Ruben, but there’s a chance they saved themselves a bit on the back-end.  A healthy Ryan Howard probably gets more than 5-years on the open market.  When will we see the big fella on the field again?  Well, the Phillies are having a little mini-camp down in Florida right now and Ryan is down there, working on his rehab.  According to Charlie Manuel, he’s a little ahead of schedule, but they’ll continue to move along with caution.  The key word in this whole affair will be setback.  If Howard continues progressing, I’d expect to see him not too long after the season starts, maybe May 1st at the latest.  In the meantime, Jim Thome is also down in Florida working out, and apparently looking slimmer and more agile than he has in years.  

Q:  When you go to a restaurant that features international cuisine are you obligated to attempt the foreign pronunciations, or is holding up the menu to the waiter’s face and pointing acceptable?  Nicole Applebees, Richmond, VA.  

A:  I’m pretty sensitive to menu issues.  One thing I have a HUGE problem with is restaurants giving their dishes ridiculous names.  If you call your bacon cheeseburger something asinine like, “The Big Locomotive,” you’ll find that I order by saying, “I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger.”  You’re not going to get me to make a fool of myself for your own amusement. NOT HAPPENING.  The foreign language thing is a little different, I guess.  And, there is that old rule of thumb that pointing is rude.  To pollo or not to pollo, that is the question.  If I think I have any chance of getting in the ballpark, “parmigiana,” for example, I’ll give it a try.  I’ll risk accidentally saying Parma-johnna or something, but if I’m trying for something like au poivre–FORGET ABOUT IT.  If you don’t want to point, you can sometimes play dumb.  Oh, I’ll have the filet….then you pause and stumble/fumble.  The waiter will be impatient and fill in the options for you. Then, you just say, YES.  Final ruling–only point if you are in actual danger of not getting what you want.  The waiters could probably use a laugh, right?  

Q: My office recently got a Keurig machine.  Now I know 3Putt has NEVER drank coffee… it makes tea too though, have you ever had tea?  Sorry I’m getting sidetracked… I would say 8 out of 10 times when I go to use the Keurig I find the last persons K-cup still in the machine.  This means I have to pull out and discard of their used K-cup before I start my brewing process.  Is it just me or is this rude?!?  Does it take that much effort to throw your damn K-cup away?  Do these people think the cup magically disappears or the plastic disengrates and is actually brewed into their cup of coffee??  Just looking for confirmation that this is rude and lazy…. Thanks in advance, Bob Stiller, Waterbury, VT.  

A: These are the things you don’t have to worry about when you don’t drink coffee.  No k-cup problems, no whining about needing your caffeine, no lines at Star-awful.  Think of the freedom, but no, everyone needs their coffee.  I have had a few (maybe 3) glasses of hot tea in my life by the way.  All when I was coughing like the proverbial bastard.  I really don’t understand people’s obsession with hot beverages but, that’s another story.  Keep in mind I only have a loose awareness of what a Keurig machine actually is–so, I’ll do the best I can.  Is leaving your K-Cup behind rude?  I’m sure it is.  It’s a little like not wiping down a machine at the gym, I suppose.  Not nearly as gross, but motivated by the same insouciant laziness.  Unfortunately, you’ve got almost no course of action in this scenario.  If you make a big deal out of it, you’ll be “the K-Cup Nazi,” or people will make fun of you behind your back for being an anal, uptight mess.  So, you’re stuck trashing other people’s K-Cups.  Unless…You could keep it passive aggressive and leave yours behind, or you could even embrace the psycho and go storming through the office screaming, “WHO HAS THE F*CKING NANTUCKET BLEND?”

Q: So, Mad Men is coming back in March.  This means another three months of watching people drink like fish…on the job.  Is this just all romanticized?  Because, I’m seeing these guys totally pull it off.  I don’t think we’re classy enough as a society anymore to drink at work.  People couldn’t handle it.  Thoughts?  Grayson Goose, Plano, TX.

A: Here’s an interesting thought.  I’m not exactly sure when businessmen stopped drinking all day, but wouldn’t it be interesting if Mad Men went long enough where you had to see Don make that transition?  Picture a 50-yr old Don, struggling through some meeting while he fiends for alcohol, or even better offering a drink to some clients at 11 am and getting looked at like he was a total degenerate.  I think Don will be saved that humiliation, not that there weren’t plenty of others last season.  To answer the question, I think you’ve got a romanticized take there.  Yes, the men drank at the office, but that was also an office where sexual harassment was rampant, there was sexism, some good old folksy racism, etc.  I think if you want a civil environment to work in, you’ve got to pretty much keep alcohol out of the equation.  Plus, who needs to drink at work when you can putz around the internet and play words with friends all day?  

Q: What do you think was the most useless skill you learned in high school was?  I assume there were dozens.  Sketching a quick parabola comes to mind, but what sticks out for you?  Dicky Door, Malvern, PA.  

A:  Let me give you a quick list of honorable mentions:  T-Scores, taking the slope of anything, how to use a Bunsen burner, DAM (Domes, Arches, Minarets), leather working (tanning?), using a card catalog, how to spell Ren-Ay-Santz (Renaissance), Eugen Weber, Spanish verb conjugation, and MiniTab.  The most useless skill I learned, though, was definitely doing research for a paper on index cards.  This was my own personal nightmare.  It’s God’s cruel trick against the procrastinator.  I was also offended by how enamored all the teachers were with this process.  Oh, you use SLUG WORDS.  Then you just organize your cards and the paper practically writes itself.  Bibliography?  Done.  Citations?  Handled.   The most preposterous element of the whole thing was getting graded on your stack of cards.  HOW TALL IS IT?  Is it an inch?  IS IT?  Some nerd would always show up with about 500 color-coordinated cards making my 50 (containing about 123 total words) seem so insignificant.  So, why is this more useless than say your everyday geometry proof?  Well, after 9th grade I never “proved” anything again with mathematics.  But, I’d go on to write several research papers in college and never used a note card.  Not once.  I just pray this technique has been eradicated from the public school system.  

Q: So my friends and I were thinking about putting on a pretty big feast for the Super Bowl.  We’d like to smoke something.  But, we don’t really have a smoker, or know what one is.  Can you smoke something in your fireplace?  Fire Marshall Bill, Skokie, IL.  

A:  Can you smoke something in your fireplace?  No.  In fact, with a question like that, I’d suggest you not use your fireplace at all.  Maybe you can toast a ‘mallow in there, but that’s about it.  Roast a weenie, perhaps.  What were you planning to do?  Shove a hog up the chimney?  Anyway, to smoke meat I’m fairly sure you need a smoker–not a fireplace.  I don’t own a smoker, and I don’t do any recreational smoking.  The reason for this?  It takes some serious equipment and it’s complicated.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say you will not be able to learn how to smoke meat by the Super Bowl.  If you’d like to take that as a challenge–Feel free.  I suggest focusing your culinary energy for the big game in another direction, but if you are going to press on, here’s some random website on smoking that appears to have a ton of information.  If by chance you do become a Cook-Off caliber smoker of fine meats and cheeses, I retract all my sarcasm and request an invitation to your next event.  

 

Phils Fans Breathe Sigh of Relief–Fielder to Detroit.

Get the Cecil Jerseys out of Storage.

Prince Fielder, the behemoth who once laced homers into the upper deck of Tiger Stadium as a teenager has decided to follow the money to Detroit–the city where his pop became famous for both his girth and his stadium clearing moonshots.  Considering the relationship between the younger and older Fielder, I can’t imagine that Detroit was high on  Prince’s wish list.  No need to drum up the old memories or all the Cecil comparisons and questions, but when the market is getting a little tight and February is looking awfully big on the horizon, you do what you have to do.  In poor Prince’s case, that was maybe rehashing some things he doesn’t want to get into in exchange for 23 million a year for a whopping 9 seasons.  That’s some serious DH money.  Oh, he’ll be playing first base (poorly) for now.

It’s another Scott Boras miracle, saves Boras’s off-season, I imagine.  It doesn’t make Ryan Madson feel any better, but to pull a near-Pujols deal out of thin air this late in the game is quite an achievement.  The move by Detroit breaks some hearts in Toronto, Baltimore, Washington and probably even Texas (the Mariners never had a shot).  For Phillies fans, this is pretty much best case scenario.  Fielder’s departure weakens Milwaukee (if Braun misses 50 games they’re in big trouble) and the fact that he didn’t land in their division makes a sixth straight NL flag a little easier to envision.  With the exception of Florida’s splurge, most of the open wallets this winter were in American League cities.

There certainly seems to be some type of power shift headed in the AL’s direction right now, or perhaps that league is just getting more top-heavy.  You could make the argument they’ve been the top league all along, but they’ve still lost 3 of the last 4 World Series.  Last winter one of the biggest points of discussion was the stockpiling of arms (especially young ones) in the National League.  That ended up not being much of an indicator of how the season would play out, though, and so we’ll have to wait and see if the TV contract money era is enough to change the balance of power.  Texas, Anaheim, Boston, and Detroit with all their wealth are certainly going to make it hard for other teams to get a sniff.